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News from Monmouth County, New Jersey

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    Crews with the FDNY and Middletown Fire Department sprung into action, saving five capsized boaters just as darkness set in.

    Firefighters, cutting through rough seas, rescued five capsized boaters off the coast of Keansburg Friday night just as darkness set in.  

    The boaters were in a small, metal boat not too far from the Keansburg fishing pier when it capsized around 8:30 p.m., according to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier.

    Crews with the FDNY and the Middletown Fire Department were dispatched to rescue the stranded boaters.

    Middletown firefighters rescued two of the boaters and the FDNY plucked three out of the water, Strohmaier said. All of the boaters were brought to the FDNY boat, which took them to the shore where EMS personnel were waiting.

    FDNY firefighters.jpgMembers of the FDNY crew that participated in Friday night's rescue of five capsized boaters.  

    FDNY Lt. Philip Miller said the boaters were "holding on to dear life" and showing signs of hypothermia on the way back to shore.

    "It was rough out there," he said. "We safely got all five people on the boat. All our training kicked in right away. If we weren't there, it would have been a very different situation. We got there just in time."

    It was dark by the time the crew reached shore.

    "They were very happy to see us," Miller explained. "They kept thanking us the whole way back. They were very gracious. We're happy to help, and ready to go at all times."

    Officials did not have information as of Saturday night on what led the boat to capsize. They also didn't know the condition of the boaters. 

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find on Facebook.

    Have a tip? Tell us.

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    Just how segregated are New Jersey's schools? Irvington's study body is 0.3 percent white.

    A lawsuit filed last week calls for the desegregation of New Jersey schools, a potentially game-changing legal challenge for minority students across the state. 

    But how segregated are the state's schools?

    Just 0.3 percent of the more than 6,700 students in Irvington Public Schools are white, making it the most non-white school district in the state, according to data from the nonprofit Center on Diversity and Equality in Education

    And that's far from the only example of students of color being isolated. 

    About 66 percent of New Jersey's African American students and 62 percent of its Latino students attend schools that are more than 75 percent non-white, according to the lawsuit.

    While the segregation is not mandatory -- it stems from affordable housing issues and the high correlation between race and socioeconomic status -- the lawsuit argues de facto segregation is unconstitutional in New Jersey based on prior state Supreme Court rulings. 

    The suit asks for the state to come up with desegregation plans for districts like Irvington and others. The goal isn't to move white students into existing urban districts but to create new integrated schools or districts and help more minority students move into suburban districts. 

    To see the 25 schools districts with the fewest white students, check out the graphic below. These are just a few of the examples of segregated schools and do not include charter schools, vocational-technical schools or other non-traditional districts. 

    Carla Astudillo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @carla_astudi. Find her on Facebook.

    Adam Clark may be reached at Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind on Facebook


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    Too much time has been wasted already. Let people place their bets in New Jersey by Memorial Day, says Christie. Watch video

    Chris Christie spent six years pushing for legalized sports betting.

    Now, the former governor says New Jersey lawmakers shouldn't waste any more time. He thinks people should be allowed to place wagers here as soon as possible.

    "We should allow Monmouth Park to start taking bets on Memorial Day," Christie told NJ Advance Media in a phone interview.

    "You can't just look at the tax revenue," he said. "You have to also look at the residual of more people coming to New Jersey (to place bets)."

    Christie's comments came after the state stumbled out of the gate when  the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey-led lawsuit that paved the way for expanded sports betting nationwide.

    After the ruling, Monmouth Park announced it would be ready by May 28. But then the state's top lawmaker, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, told the racetrack to stand down.

    He introduced language to legislation to regulate the industry that says anyone who opens a sports betting operation in New Jersey before the state enacts such a law will be barred from accepting future bets on games.

    N.J. can forget immediate legal sports betting

    Sweeney, D-Gloucester, explained he wanted to make sure the proper regulations were in place. He vowed to move quickly and, as of now, both chambers of the Legislature are slated to send Gov. Phil Murphy a bill on June 7.

    If that happens, it'll amount to a less than two-week delayed opening wait for Monmouth Park.

    But for Christie, who's four months out of office and is no longer able to call the shot's from the governor's office, enough time has been wasted already. So let New Jerseyans place their bets, he argues.

    New Jersey spent years -- and at least $9 million -- in court fighting for legal sports betting at its casinos and racetracks. When the Supreme Court ruled in the state's favor, it overturned a 1992 federal ban on such wagering.

    Former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak led the charge in Trenton nearly a decade ago to expand sports betting. But movement largely stalled until 2011, when the state's Democratic-controlled Legislature and Christie, a Republican, put a sports betting referendum on the ballot that won support from a majority of voters.

    Christie then signed a law that permitted wagering at casinos and racetracks. However, he was sued by the NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

    "For a long time, I was told that this was a fool's errand and that I was wasting money and that we weren't going to win," Christie said. "I think that hanging in there for as long as I did, spending the money that we did, is gratifying when the highest court in the land says you were right all along."

    He called the Supreme Court's decision "incredibly gratifying, for sure."

    With New Jersey's casinos, racetracks and online gambling infrastructure in place, Christie says the Garden State will have a leg up on many others who are in a similar rush to cash in on the revenue that can be reaped by states that offer sports betting.

    "It's going to show that New Jersey is a leader again in this type of entertainment, and that's a good thing," Christie said.

    But when asked what the decision meant for the Christie legacy, the former governor brushed the question away.

    "I don't worry about legacy. My legacy will be judged over the course of years and decades -- not months," Christie said. "I'm really proud of the fact that I fought for the thing that the people of New Jersey wanted and that I won."

    Matt Arco may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewArco or Facebook.


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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey await adoption.

    If you're interested in helping homeless animals but aren't able to adopt one, there are a number of other ways you can be of assistance.

    Realistically, not everyone can adopt. People who live in apartments or developments that have no-pets policies fall into that category, as do people with allergies or disabilities that will not allow them to care for pets of their own. offers these suggestions for ways people who want to help can participate in caring for homeless animals.

    * Help out at a local shelter. It's not glamorous work by any means, but it's vital and will be very much appreciated. You can do anything from help walk dogs to bottle feed kittens, help clean kennels or cat's cages or even help with bathing and grooming. Contact your local shelter to find out their policies regarding volunteers.

    * If you're handy, you can lend a hand in many ways. Shelters usually need repairs of many kinds, so fixer-uppers can help out like that. If you sew, quilt or crochet, you can make blankets for your local shelter.

    * Help out at an adoption event. Many shelters and rescue groups participate in local events by hosting a table with pets available for adoption. They also hold these program at malls, pet supply stores and banks, and can always use a helping hand.

    * For galleries like this one and for online adoptions sites, often a shelter or rescue group doesn't have the time or equipment to shoot good photos of their adoptable pets. Something as simple as making yourself available to shoot and provide digital files of pet photos can be a big help.

    * Donate. It doesn't have to be money; shelters need cleaning supplies, pet food, toys for the animals and often even things we don't think twice about getting rid of like old towels and newspapers. Every little bit helps.

    If you don't know where your local animal shelter or rescue group is, a quick online search will reveal a number of results. It doesn't take a lot of time or effort to get involved but it provides immeasurable assistance.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    Embattled Spring Lake Heights Councilman Robert Merriken and a female passenger in his SUV were arrested on paraphernalia charges April 4 in Neptune City. It wasn't his first arrest. Watch video

    A 69-year-old Spring Lake Heights borough councilman is not an intravenous drug user, his lawyer insisted, after the councilman was pulled over last month and he and a passenger were charged with possession of a syringe and other drug paraphernalia.

    "I can tell you he is not," an intravenous drug user, said Charles Shaw, a lawyer for the councilman, Robert T. Merriken, in a phone interview with NJ Advance Media on Wednesday.

    Merriken and his passenger, Charice Hernandez, 39, were arrested in Neptune City on April 4 and while a needle was found in the SUV, both Merriken's lawyer and Hernandez's mother deny either of them were using it. 

    Hernandez's mother, Gina Liguori Hernandez, said she never knew her daughter to use drugs during the two months they lived together last winter or the following three months prior to the arrest, when she saw her regularly.

    "Not that I knew of, unless she's done something since she been out on the street," said Gina Liguori Hernandez.

    Merriken and Hernanez can even be heard on police footage arguing in the back of a police car about whose needle it was. 

    The councilman was pulled over after police said he ran a stop sign and failed to use a turn signal. Officers found a syringe, bloodied cotton swabs, a rubber band, and a plastic needle cap in Merriken's sport utility vehicle, according to the complaints. Merriken and Hernandez were each charged with two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to inject a controlled dangerous substance, a disorderly persons offense, the complaints said.

    Merriken had been scheduled for an appearance Thursday in Neptune Township Municipal Court, where the paraphernalia case had been transferred due to a conflict of interest involving the city prosecutor, Shaw said. But Shaw said Thursday's appearance was adjourned until next month due to a scheduling conflict.

    Body and dashboard camera video obtained from the Neptune City Police Department capture several exchanges, including one between Merriken and Hernandez in which both claim not to be responsible for the syringe found in his SUV.

    "Where did they find the needle, Robert?" Hernandez asks, while the two are off-camera in the back of a patrol car.

    "What needle?" Merriken replies, "I didn't have a needle. That's the one you dropped."

    "No," she says. "I didn't bring any needles with me."

    Merriken, who runs Bay Head Marine, a boat dealership in Point Pleasant Beach, is a Republican who was first elected to the Spring Lake Heights council in November 2015. Spring Lake Heights is a southern Monmouth County borough of just over a square mile and just under 5,000 residents, separated from the Atlantic coast by the Borough of Spring Lake. 

    Although Merriken's term expires Dec. 31, his name is not on the June 5 primary ballot, and four of his fellow Republicans on the council have called for his resignation.

    "We wish Mr. Merriken well, but he must recognize that this is in the best interests of our town and its residents," council members Christopher Campion, Richard Diver, James Shuler and Joseph Tompey said in a joint statement.

    At one point, said Borough Administerator John Barrett, Merriken offered a verbal resignation, but he later insisted he would not step down. He has missed the past two council meetings, and Barrett said the council could act to remove him if he misses two more. The next meeting is scheduled for Monday.

    Merriken's April 4 arrest was not his first. Shaw confirmed prior arrests in 2006 in Ocean Township and in 2015 in Neptune, both on prostitution charges, previously reported by the Asbury Park Press. The prostitution counts were dropped, however, and Merriken pleaded guilty to lesser charges, according to the Press and confirmed by Shaw.

    On the police tape, Merriken and Hernandez discuss the possibility of her being charged with prostitution.

    "I'm not a prostitute," says Hernandez, who was not charged as one in the vehicle stop.

    At one point on the video, Merriken tells an officer that Hernandez had been "a good friend of my son, my son passed away." Since then, he told the officer, "I try to help her out." 

    The Asbury Park Press reported that Hernandez was found guilty of the paraphernalia possession charge on April 26 and fined. Hernandez could not be reached for comment. Her mother said she had no lawyer.

    Hernandez has been in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution since May 9,  when she was arrested on a warrant for providing false information related to a separate case, her mother said.

    Steve Strunsky may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find on Facebook.


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    The annual 'Click It or Ticket' campaign handed out nearly 18,000 tickets to drivers in New Jersey last year, and 173 departments are participating in 2018

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    Take a look at how the teams fell into place for this week's ranks.

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    After two years of renovations, Asbury Lanes is back in business. See photos, videos inside and full review of the place.

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    Later, rain - the baseball tourney opens on a glorious Monday.

    Baseball: Delran at Northern Burlington on 5/4/2017Baseball: Delran at Northern Burlington on 5/4/2017 (Larry Murphy | For the Times of Trenton)  
    Baseball: Mercer County Semifinals: Hopewell Valley vs. Steinert on 5/15/2017Baseball: Mercer County Semifinals: Hopewell Valley vs. Steinert on 5/15/2017 (Larry Murphy | For the Times of Trenton)  

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    High schools from New Jersey celebrate prom 2018.

    Photographers from NJ Advance Media are covering proms around the state. Check out the list below with our most recent prom photo galleries from the past week.

    Be sure to check out our complete prom coverage at

    Patti Sapone may be reached at Follow her on Instagram @psapo, Twitter @psapone. Follow on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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    A look ahead to the semifinal round of the girls lacrosse state tournament.

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    Gamblers will have to wait until at least June 7 in New Jersey. Watch video

    Gov. Phil Murphy made it official: There won't be any legal sports betting in New Jersey by Memorial Day.

    Despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for it and Monmouth Park ready and able to accept bets by May 28, New Jerseyans will have to wait until a bill to regulate the industry is signed into law.

    That's because Murphy agrees with the state's top lawmaker, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, that New Jersey doesn't need to rush into accepting bets.

    "The good news is that we're gonna look back on this X years from now and say this was an historic step in the right direction and we started it," Murphy said at a public event on Monday.

    Christie says N.J. sports betting should have started on Memorial Day

    He added: "Whether it's within seven or 10 days of each other, I'm not necessarily obsessed with."

    To recap, immediately after the Supreme Court ruled on May 14 that states could legalize sports betting, Monmouth Park announced it would be ready by May 28 unless the governor or Legislature told them to stand down.

    Within a few days, Sweeney did just that. The Senate president introduced language to legislation to regulate the industry that says anyone who opens a sports betting operation in New Jersey before the state enacts such a law will be barred from accepting future bets on games.

    And if gamblers anxious to place their bets were looking for support from Murphy to urge lawmakers to get the industry going, their hopes were dashed Monday.

    Murphy said the bets can wait.

    "I would just say this, we're working well with the legislative teams in both houses and we're trying to get this done as fast as possible," the governor said.

    That means legal sports betting will have to wait until at least June 7. 

    That's the date both the state Senate and Assembly are planning to hold votes on new legislation setting the rules for how the state will regulate and tax sports wagering at its casinos and racetracks.

    Once the bill is passed, Murphy's signature becomes the final hurdle before New Jerseyans can begin betting legally on football, basketball, baseball, and more.

    Matt Arco may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewArco or Facebook.


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    The 19-year-old from Montgomery struck a tree on Saturday morning

    A 19-year-old Monmouth University student from Somerset County was killed in a single-vehicle crash after striking a tree early Saturday, authorities said. 

    Chase Coram, of the Belle Mead section of Montgomery, veered off Willow Road and slammed a car into a tree, Hillsborough police said. The crash took place just south of Kilmer around around 6 a.m. 

    Coram was brought to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in Somerville, where he was pronounced dead.

    Coram was a 2017 graduate of Montgomery High School. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.


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    An Ocean Township man died in the September 2017 crash in Perth Amboy

    A drunken tractor trailer driver who slammed into a car, setting of an chain-reaction wreck that killed one motorist and injured three others, won't drive again for a long time.

    Aleksander Isserovich, 39, of Brooklyn, New York, was traveling south on Route 440 in Perth Amboy last September when he hit the rear of a Hyundai Sonata driven by Jason Appio, 45, of Ocean Township.

    The Sonata lurched forward into another vehicle as the tractor trailer jackknifed and hit two other cars.

    Appio died of his injuries.

    Superior Court Judge Michael A. Toto sentenced Isserovich to 7 years in prison for vehicular homicide on Friday and handed down three 12-month terms for assault by auto for the three injured motorists.

    The assault by auto terms will be served concurrently to the 7-year term. He also received concurrent time for driving under the influence.

    Prior to the wreck, a motorist called 911 to report that Isserovich was driving erratically, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office previously stated.

    Isserovich pleaded guilty to the charges in February.

    He must serve 85 percent of his sentence before he's eligible for parole

    Upon his release from prison, Isserovich will also lose his driver's license for 10 years, Toto ordered.

    Matt Gray may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MattGraySJT. Find the South Jersey Times on FacebookHave a tip? Tell us:

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    The state on Monday released its projection for how much it will see from sports betting tax revenue.

    If you were hoping legal sports betting would solve New Jersey's fiscal problems, you're out of luck.

    The state is projecting $13 million in tax revenue from sports betting in the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to testimony from state Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio on Monday. 

    That's a mere sliver of the $37.4 billion state budget that Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed. 

    Some state lawmakers said the estimate seems conservative. 

    "That sounds real low to me," state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told NJ Advance Media. "This is our first time out. We don't know what to expect." 

    "But we're better off going in more conservative than overoptimistic," Sweeney added.

    No sports betting on Memorial Day. Period. So says Phil Murphy. 

    State Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, said he expects the final tax haul to be "better than that" in the end.

    Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan declined comment, saying he will let Muoio's projections "stand." 

    Still, even higher projections -- some officials have estimated anywhere from $50 to $100 million -- would not have a massive effect on New Jersey's budget.

    For example, Murphy is currently at odds with his fellow Democrats who lead the state Legislature over his plan to increase taxes by $1.5 billion to ramp up funding for education, transportation, and public-worker pensions.

    But Sweeney said "no one ever thought" sports betting would produce a large enough tax windfall to negate at least one of Murphy's proposed hikes.

    A source within Murphy's administration agreed with Sweeney, saying they never saw sports betting as a "game-changer for the budget." The source requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. 

    Instead, lawmakers say sports betting will simply give the state another shot of revenue -- "which, of course, will help," Sweeney said.

    "Any additional revenue is beneficial to the state," he added.

    State officials have yet to decide what the money would be used for. 

    The U.S. Supreme Court last week gave New Jersey a victory in its seven-year case to legalize sports betting, overturning a federal ban on such wagering. Now states across the U.S. are free to legalize bets on football, basketball, baseball, and more. 

    New Jersey lawmakers are rushing to pass legislation to regulate and tax sports betting to get a jump on others and become the first state outside of Nevada with full-scale sports betting. 

    Leaders of the state Legislature hope to vote on June 7 and have Murphy sign the measure immediately.

    Right now, it's difficult to formally project what this will mean for the state budget because the law isn't in place and the market is unclear.

    Muoio said during a budget hearing Monday that "credible market observers and our tax analysts" estimate sports betting to bring in $124 million in total revenue and $13 million in tax revenue sent to the state.

    That figure is based on tax rates between 8 and 15 percent, Muoio said. 

    Under the legislation being considered by the Legislature, sports betting revenue at casinos and tracks would be subject to an 8 percent tax rate, while online bets would be taxes at 12.5 percent.

    Muoio's figures are lower than a 2017 report from the American Gaming Association that predicted sports betting in New Jersey could generate $200 million in total revenue and $21 million in tax revenue. 

    By comparison, Nevada -- home to Las Vegas -- drew a record $249 million in total revenue and $17 million in tax revenue last year.

    One of the problems is the Supreme Court issued a more broad ruling than allowing only New Jersey to legalize sports betting. That means neighboring states like Delaware and Pennsylvania could pull business that otherwise might have gone to New Jersey.

    Wall Street ratings agency Fitch Ratings said last week that sports betting "will not contribute substantially" to states' tax revenue.

    Officials, though, emphasize other benefits. Namely, sports betting is expected to breathe life into New Jersey's struggling casino and racetrack industries. 

    "It's a huge deal," said former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, who spent years pushing for legal sports betting. "It will bring back tourism to Atlantic City that has relied on day-trippers, when a sports bettor will stay for long weekends and weeks at a time."

    Caputo, a former casino executive, agreed.

    "People make a decision where to go on Super Bowl day," the assemblyman said. "Atlantic City will be one of the premier spots to go."

    "I anticipate New Jersey doing very well with this," Caputo added. "I'm very excited about this."

    NJ Advance Media staff writer Samantha Marcus contributed to this report. 

    Brent Johnson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find Politics on Facebook.

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    NJ Advance Media breaks down the list of 16 state champions in the last eight years.

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    30 N.J. softball alums and how they did in the NCAA Regionals

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    Along with the censure, colleagues voted to call on Spring Lake Heights Borough Councilman Robert Merriken to resign. Watch video

    A Spring Lake Heights councilman arrested last month on drug paraphernalia charges was officially called upon to resign by his Borough Council colleagues.

    By a 4-1 vote, the council approved a resolution censuring Robert T. Merriken, Sr., and calling for his resignation.

    The resolution states the council and community "have witnessed a series of events played out in the media involving Councilman Merriken which includes a recent incident involving drug paraphernalia and other potentially improper conduct.

    "Members of the Governing Body hereby censure Councilman Merriken and call for his immediate resignation so that these leaders can repair the damage done to our community and restore faith in the leadership of Spring Lake Heights. Our community demands it and, more importantly, deserves it."

    Council members Rich Diver, Chris Campion, Joe Tompey and Jim Shuler voted in favor of the resolution. 

    Sara King, Merriken's sole ally on the six-member council, cast the no vote.

    Whose syringe was it? Not mine, says councilman.

    Merriken, 69, was not at the council meeting, his third straight absence. He did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment. Merriken, a Republican, is in the final year of his first three-year term. He is not seeking re-election.

    Merriken was arrested in Neptune City on April 4 following a motor vehicle stop, after police said he ran a stop sign and failed to signal a turn. Inside his silver sport utility vehicle, police said they found a syringe, bloodied cotton swabs, a rubber band and a needle cap.

    Merriken and a passenger, 39-year-old Cherice Hernandez of Lake Como, were each charged with two counts of possession of paraphernalia with intent to inject a controlled dangerous substance. Hernandez entered a guilty plea April 26 in Neptune Township Municipal Court, said James Butler, the municipal prosecutor.  

    Merriken's case is pending. His lawyer, Charles Shaw, has declined to discuss the case, other than to assert that Merriken intends to plead not guilty.  

    The council resolution also chided Merriken for abusing his official position by telling Neptune City officers during the vehicle stop that he was "a major figure in Spring Lake Heights." The resolution also criticized Merriken for resigning verbally following his arrest, prompting an official announcement of the resignation, which was the rescinded by Merriken.

    Shaw has confirmed reporting by the Asbury Park Press that his client was arrested twice in the past, in 2006 and in 2015, the year Merriken was elected, both times on prostitution charges that were later dismissed in favor of lesser charges.  

    Police dashboard camera footage of last month's vehicle stop capture Merriken and Hernandez talking in the back of a patrol car, audible but unseen, both disclaiming responsibility for the syringe found by police. 

    "I didn't have a needle," Merriken tells her. "That's the one you dropped."

    "No," Hernandez replies. "I didn't bring any needles with me."

    While Shaw has repeatedly declined to discuss specific allegations against Merriken, he did maintain that his client was not an intravenous drug user.

    Hernandez's mother, Gina Liguori Hernandez, said she never knew her daughter to use drugs during the two months they lived together in November and December, or during the following three months between then and her arrest, when she saw her regularly. 

    Steve Strunsky may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find on Facebook

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    Highlights of the first round of states.

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    The 2-million-square-foot building on 472 acres was once a center for major scientific developments as Bell Labs.

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